(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Smoke billows behind a building in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on December 3, 2017, during clashes between Houthi rebels and supporters of Yemeni ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh. 

© 2017 Getty Images

(Beirut) – Lawless armed conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) morphed into disastrous trends for the region in 2017, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its 2018 World Report.

“Failed leadership, failed governments, and failed policies have brought nothing but catastrophe for the youth and future generations of the Middle East caught up in the region’s wars,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The legacy of these wars will be recorded as the ‘shame of the century’ for the Middle East.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

The top five trends in the region’s wars included:

  1. Chemical and Other Banned Weapons as the New Normal: The Syrian government, backed by its Russian allies, has used banned chemical weapons, and in Yemen, the United States-supported Saudi-led coalition has used widely banned cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch documented dozens of instances in which the Syrian government used chemical weapons in Syria, including littering Aleppo with chlorine-filled barrel bombs. The Islamic State (also known as ISIS) also used chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq. The Russian government effectively blocked the only body whose job it was to attribute responsibility and pave the way for sanctions against Syria for using chemical weapons by vetoing the Joint Investigative Mechanism’s Mandate at the United Nations Security Council. Human Rights Watch also documented the Saudi-led coalition’s repeated use of cluster munitions in Yemen – including those made in the US and Brazil. Houthi-Saleh forces made wide use of anti-personnel landmines, despite repeated promises not to use this weapon, which leaves behind unexploded bomblets that harm civilians for generations.

“While the world moves to end the scourge of chemical weapons, cluster munitions, and landmines, the Middle East has made these disgusting weapons the new normal in warfare,” Whitson said. “It’s repellent that arms manufacturers continue to profit off the sale of banned weapons.”

  1. Starving Children During War: Beyond bombing homes, schools, hospitals, and irreplaceable cultural architecture in the region, the Syrian government and Saudi-led coalition have each resorted to blocking aid and impeding critical supplies from reaching starving children. The Syrian government imposes sieges in various regions of Syria, including in so-called “de-escalation zones” such as Ghouta, severely restricting access to food and medical care for the civilian population. The Saudi-led coalition imposed a nation-wide blockade on all of Yemen’s ports and airspace, in a country where malnutrition, cholera, and diphtheria were already ravaging children and have now reached epidemic levels. The UN secretary-general placed the Saudi-led coalition on his annual “List of Shame” for violations against children, despite extraordinary threats and bullying by the Saudi government to be taken off the list.

“It is deeply disturbing that Arab governments are deliberately starving Arab children during wartime,” Whitson said. “The cruelty and barbarism on display in the Middle East should lead to a collective hanging of heads in shame in the region.”

  1. Unlawful Video Executions by Warlords, National Armies Alike: It’s not just ISIS that has promoted itself with gruesome acts of violence and savagery. Human Rights Watch documented Iraqi army soldiers and Khalifa Hiftar-aligned Libyan militias proudly recording depraved acts of torture and executions of detainees. The Egyptian army and police in Sinai staged “shoot-outs” to cover up such executions. Governments failed to investigate, condemn, or appropriately punish repeated unlawful acts by their forces, despite sometimes promising to do so. 

“It’s difficult to square the global outrage against ISIS horrors in the face of national armies and militias that mimic their tactics but receive military assistance from various foreign governments,” Whitson said.

  1. Ran Out of Men, Let’s Use Children: Houthi-Saleh forces resorted to recruiting children to help fight in Yemen. The UN secretary-general placed Houthi forces, as well as other parties in Yemen, on his annual “List of Shame” for their persistent recruitment of children. Human Rights Watch also documented the use of child soldiers in the Syrian conflict by multiple parties, including Kurdish armed groups and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Iran actually recruited Afghan immigrant children to fight in support of Syrian government forces.

“As if slaughtering and starving the region’s children is not bad enough, some are now despicably dragging children to fight and die on the battlefield,” Whitson said.

  1. Arabs Flee the Arab World En Masse: Many people in the Middle East voted with their feet, fleeing their countries in record numbers over the past five years. Millions of Syrians escaped Syria, while the hundreds of thousands who sought refuge in Europe faced a widespread backlash against refugees. Libyans, Iraqis, Yemenis, and Egyptians joined the ranks of millions of refugees and internally displaced in the Middle East who have lost their homes, livelihoods, and communities.

“Is there any greater evidence of just how inhospitable the Middle East has become than the reality of millions of its people fleeing, or trying to flee, disastrous wars – caused by disastrous leadership?” Whitson said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Public debate on the law on violence in the family, passed in December 2017. 

© 2017 RFE/RL Armenia
(Berlin) – The Armenian government made important steps to improve access to palliative care for people with life-threatening illnesses in 2017 and parliament passed a law on violence in the family, but serious gaps in human rights protection persist, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

The authorities failed to bring to justice officials responsible for excessive use of force against protesters and journalists in Yerevan during July 2016 protests. Domestic violence is a serious problem, with thousands of women reporting incidents annually. Local groups reported at least four women killed by their partners or family members in 2017.

“Despite alarming statistics on domestic violence, the Armenian government hasn’t done enough to protect and support survivors,” said Giorgi Gogia, South Caucasus director at Human Rights Watch. “The recent law on family violence is a step forward, but the government still has a long way to go to ensure that women and children aren’t trapped in abusive and often life-threatening situations.”

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Human Rights Watch identified other serious human rights concerns in Armenia, including violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In a positive step, the government overhauled the onerous system for prescribing and accessing opioid pain medications for patents with life-threatening illnesses.

Armenia’s ruling party dominated parliamentary and municipal elections in 2017. International observers concluded that the April parliamentary elections “were well administered,” but the polls were “tainted by credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies,” and failed to improve public confidence in the country’s electoral systems.

The government has failed to ensure full accountability for police violence against largely peaceful protesters and journalists during protests in Yerevan in July 2016. Some police officers faced disciplinary action, but no criminal charges were pursued against any officials, despite the gravity of some of the force used. At the same time, authorities prosecuted protest participants and leaders, convicting at least 22 people on charges of using violence during mass disorder and interfering with the work of a journalist.

The authorities also did not effectively investigate the alleged police beating of four men in the court building in Yerevan in June. They were among 32 men facing trial for alleged crimes committed during the July 2016 armed takeover of a Yerevan police station. The men said police beat them in basement holding cells. Some officers alleged to have participated in the beatings remained on duty in the courtroom during the trial.

Thousands of children placed in residential institutions due to disability or poverty faced neglect due to overcrowding. While the authorities have transformed some of the institutions into community support centers, the process has not included all institutions with children with disabilities. Children with disabilities frequently remain in institutions as adults indefinitely, stripped of their legal capacity. Physical barriers and lack of reasonable accommodations at community schools often leave children with disabilities with little or no education.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Summary

Discrimination on grounds of origin or religion remains a significant problem in France. Abusive police identity checks disproportionally affect minorities, which France has failed to address despite a commitment to do so at its last UPR. Migrants and asylum seekers lack access to basic services and are subject to harassment and abuse and France is failing to adequately protect unaccompanied children. Counterterrorism laws undermine fundamental rights and lead to abuse.

  1. Discriminatory Identity Checks

The measures taken by France since its last UPR, such as the adoption in 2013 of a Code of Ethics for the Police and National Gendarmerie, prohibiting police from basing decisions on who to stop solely on physical characteristics, and distinctive signs, have not prevented the use of ethnic profiling by the police when performing identity checks. Recent reports by the French Ombudsman and France’s Human Rights Consultative Commission found that young men from visible minorities are overrepresented in police checks and are 20 times more likely to be stopped by the police. Security Laws adopted in February and October 2017 raise concerns that people who complain about discriminatory checks could face increased sanctions, and that the use of discriminatory identity checks could be expanded. In July 2016, the National Assembly rejected a proposal to require police officers to draw up stop forms on the grounds that it would be too costly, while their use is a simple yet effective way to measure stops and promote accountability, and has shown positive results in other countries such as the United Kingdom. On October 18, 2017, President Macron expressed his wish to restore trust between the police and the population, acknowledging that France is the European country that carries out the most identity checks.

Recommendations

  • Reform the Code of Criminal Procedure to require that all identity checks be based on a reasonable, individualized suspicion.
  • Introduce stop forms and ensure that these forms include information identifying the person stopped and the law enforcement officer(s) conducting the stop, the legal basis for the stop, whether a pat-down or search of belongings was conducted, and the outcome of the procedure.
  • Adopt clear guidance for law enforcement officers with respect to identity checks, including a requirement to inform of the legal basis for the stop and of rights during a stop, as well as instructions on stops and searches of children.
  • Ensure that abuse during police stops is systematically investigated and prosecuted, and hold officers to account.
  1. Treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors

As of late November 2017, approximately 700-1000 migrants and asylum seekers continue to live and sleep outdoors in and around Calais, northern France, including between 100-200 unaccompanied children. In July 2017, Human Rights Watch research found that police forces in Calais routinely spray chemical agents on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat, and regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, clothing and shoes. Despite a ruling in late July by the Conseil d’État, France’s highest administrative court, allowing food and clothing distributions, intimidation of humanitarian workers and disruption of delivery of aid continues. In October 2017, an inquiry conducted by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments at the request of the Ministry of Interior, in response to Human Rights Watch’s July report, found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais, and set out recommendations. Despite the recent findings, as of late November 2017, local organizations report that police violence against migrants and delays in accessing the child protection and asylum systems continue.

Recommendations

  • Implement the recommendations of the October 2017 administrative report into police abuse.
  • Investigate reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and migrants and hold abusers to account.
  • Ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have full access to asylum procedures, guardianship, mental health support, family reunification under the Dublin regulations, and other essential services.
  • Comply with obligations under the European Union reception directive and immediately provide accommodation to all asylum applicants who lack sufficient means to provide for themselves while their claims are processed, from the moment a person indicates an intention to seek asylum.
  1. Counterterrorism laws

Since France’s last UPR, concerns have intensified: France has adopted new laws introducing broad counterterrorism, intelligence and surveillance powers. France had a state of emergency in place for almost two years starting in November 2015. Although the October 2017 Counterterrorism Law formally ended the state of emergency, it incorporated several emergency powers into normal criminal and administrative law. These includes powers that have led to significant abuse, such as the power to order people considered a threat to national security to live in an assigned place and to carry out house searches, with only limited judicial authorization. The powers have given rise to concerns that Muslims may be targeted on the basis of their religious practice, with no evidence pointing to their involvement in any criminal behavior, and have exacerbated longstanding concerns about ethnic profiling in police stop and search practices. The law has been criticized for granting the executive the power to restrict freedom of worship, assembly, free movement and the right to privacy, without adequate judicial safeguards.

Recommendations

  • Use the October 2017 Counterterrorism Law’s annual review by Parliament and sunset clause set for 2020 to carry out thorough evaluations of the implementation of the law, including assessing whether these measures are necessary and proportionate to countering terrorism.
  • Ensure civil society is able to participate throughout the Counterterrorism Law’s review processes.
  • Publish public data regarding measures imposed under counterterrorism laws, and about legal appeals against their use, in order to allow for accountability and transparent discussion of their necessity.
  • Ensure that the powers introduced in counterterrorism laws are not used in a discriminatory way against religious and ethnic minorities and foreign nationals.
  • Amend the law to ensure robust and full judicial oversight and approval of any measure that restrain someone’s liberty and freedom of movement, worship, assembly and right to privacy.

Update: Treatment of migrants and asylum seekers in France

As of December 2017, approximately 700 migrants and asylum seekers, most from Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Afghanistan, continue to live and sleep outdoors in Calais, northern France, including approximately 100 unaccompanied children. They depend largely on humanitarian organizations for access to food and basic essentials such as clothing, sleeping bags, and blankets.

In July 2017, Human Rights Watch found that police forces, particularly the riot police (Compagnies républicaines de sécurité, CRS), routinely use chemical agents on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances in which they pose no threat. Police also regularly spray or confiscate migrants’ sleeping bags, blankets, clothing and shoes, and sometimes spray their food and water. The French authorities state that they use tear gas. Tear gas causes symptoms such as a painful, burning sensation in the eyes and difficulty breathing.  It is a nerve agent, and frequent exposure has been associated with long-term decreases in pulmonary function and increases in respiratory complaints. According to some asylum seekers and migrants, police have on occasion struck them with batons or kicked them when ordering them to leave food distribution sites or other locations. Such police behavior violates the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment as well as international and national standards regulating the use of force by police.

Police have also intimidated humanitarian workers and sometimes disrupted delivery of aid. Since a ruling in late July by the Conseil d’État, France’s highest administrative court, aid distributions have been allowed to proceed with little or no disruption, although intimidation of aid workers continues. Some showers and water stations have also been installed.

Unaccompanied migrant children struggle to access the asylum system. Barriers to seeking asylum include a lack of information, delayed appointments, and the distance to the asylum office in Lille, 110 kilometers from Calais. Many migrants cannot afford the cost of transport, and those who can risk detention if they travel by public transport.

In October, an inquiry conducted by the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses against child and adult migrants in Calais. It set out recommendations for the police to address these abuses, which should be implemented immediately. As of December, police violence against migrants and confiscation of their belongings continue and destruction of their belongings has increased. Delays in accessing the child protection and asylum systems continue.

Recommendations for France:

  • Implement the recommendations of the state administration’s report into police abuse and report back on its progress.
  • Investigate reports of police abuse against asylum seekers and migrants and hold anyone found responsible to account.
  • Ensure that police officers comply with French law and institutional norms, including those relating to the use of force and the wearing of identification badges. Officers who fail to comply with these norms should be disciplined as appropriate.
  • Police should enter into dialogue with humanitarian workers and representatives of migrant groups to facilitate implementation of the Conseil d’État’s ruling requiring the delivery of humanitarian aid.
  • Ensure that unaccompanied migrant children have full access to asylum procedures, guardianship, mental health support, family reunification under the Dublin regulations, and other essential services.
  • Comply with its obligations under the European Union reception directive and immediately provide access to accommodation to all asylum applicants who lack sufficient means to provide for themselves while their claims are processed, from the moment a person indicates an intention to seek asylum.
  • Work with humanitarian and nongovernmental groups to help arrange emergency accommodation for any undocumented migrant without shelter in Calais.
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A migrant walks past the slogans which read "refugees welcome" written on a wall near the former "Jungle" in Calais, France, August 23, 2017. 

© 2018 Reuters
Shortly after he became president of France last year, Emmanuel Macron had a hopeful vision for humanely addressing the country’s asylum crisis. “By the end of the year, I do not want to have men and women on the streets, in the woods. I want emergency accommodation everywhere.”

None of this has happened.

Tomorrow, Macron visits Calais, northern France. More than a year after the closure of the “Jungle” camp in the town, 600-700 asylum seekers and migrants, including 100-150 unaccompanied children, still live outdoors in increasingly desperate conditions. They face police harassment and violence, and are at risk from the cold. This reality sits starkly at odds with Macron’s commitments to a humane approach.

Last summer, Human Rights Watch found that police in Calais used excessive force toward asylum seekers and migrants, routinely using irritant gas, confiscating their sleeping bags, blankets, and clothing, disrupting aid delivery, and harassing aid workers.

The Ministry of the Interior and the prefect have denied any abuse from the police. But in October, the French administration and security forces’ internal investigations departments found convincing evidence that police used excessive force and committed other abuses, and they made a series of recommendations for this to change. These include ensuring officers are correctly using aerosol sprays, wear visible identification at all times, and use cameras during operations and identity checks.

Despite those recommendations, abuses continue. In December, more than 30 asylum seekers and migrants, as well as aid workers, told me police are still destroying and confiscating tents, shelters, and belongings – coinciding with winter’s arrival. As Kuma (not his real name), 17, told me, “When [the police] come, they beat us. They take our sleeping bags, our jackets, every time. They hit me sometimes. They use gas, all over my face. They say, ‘Don’t sleep. Go!’”

True, water and sanitation for migrants in Calais has improved. But emergency accommodation for winter is only opened when the weather is particularly severe, and there are not enough places for everyone.

France can do better.

Macron should call for the abusive policing practices to stop immediately, and for authorities to implement the October report’s other recommendations. Emergency accommodation should always be opened for those who would otherwise be homeless this winter.

The authorities should also commit to ensure migrants have full access to information and asylum procedures without undue delays. Macron’s rhetoric should become reality, and it should start now in Calais.

 

 
Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Children learning to read the Quran at the Gaabow Islamic school in Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, August 2013. Parents and teachers told Human Rights Watch that Al-Shabab militants threatened and on occasion abducted teachers and children from schools in rural areas of Bay region in September 2017.
©2013 REUTERS/Ismail Taxta

(Nairobi) – The Islamist armed group Al-Shabab has threatened and abducted civilians in Somalia’s Bay region to force communities to hand over their children for indoctrination and military training in recent months.

Since late September 2017, Al-Shabab has ordered elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and communities in rural areas to provide hundreds of children as young as 8 or face attack. The armed group’s increasingly aggressive child recruitment campaign started in mid-2017 with reprisals against communities that refused. In recent months, hundreds of children, many unaccompanied, have fled their homes to escape forced recruitment.

“Al-Shabab’s ruthless recruitment campaign is taking rural children from their parents so they can serve this militant armed group,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “To escape that cruel fate, many children have fled school or their homes.”

Over the past decade, Al-Shabab has recruited thousands of children for indoctrination and to become frontline fighters. Since 2015, the armed group has opened several large Islamic religious schools in areas under their control, strengthened indoctrination methods including by bringing in younger children, and pressured teachers to retrain and teach Al-Shabab’s curriculum in schools.

On a recent trip to Baidoa, the capital of Bay region, Human Rights Watch spoke to 15 residents from three districts in Bay region largely under Al-Shabab control – Berdale, Baidoa, and Burhakaba districts – as well as child protection advocates and United Nations officials. The findings match similar trends in other parts of the country since mid-2017.

Village elders said that in September Al-Shabab ordered them to go to Al-Shabab-controlled Bulo Fulay and to hand over dozens of children ages 9 to 15. A resident of Berdale district said: “They said we needed to support their fight. They spoke to us in a very threatening manner. They also said they wanted the keys to our boreholes [watering points]. They kept us for three days. We said we needed to consult with our community. They gave us 10 days.” Two other community residents said that they received threatening calls, including death threats, after the 10 days ran out, but as of late 2017 they had not handed over the children.

Three residents said that in September Al-Shabab fighters forcibly took at least 50 boys and girls from two schools in Burhakaba district and transported them to Bulo Fulay, which witnesses say hosts a number of religious schools and a major training facility. Two weeks later, a large group of armed Al-Shabab fighters with their faces covered returned to the village, entered another local school, and threatened and beat the teacher to hand over children.

“They wanted 25 children ages 8 to 15,” said the teacher, who resisted the order. “They didn’t say why, but we know that it’s because they want to indoctrinate them and then recruit them. After they hit me, some of the children started crying and tried to run out of the classroom. But the fighters were all around. They caned a 7-year-old boy who tried to escape.”

The fighters gave the community 10 days to hand over the children.

Share

© 2012 United Nations

Residents from Berdale district said that in at least four villages, Al-Shabab abducted elders who refused to hand over children. In one village, three elders were released only after they agreed to hand over eight boys from their village.

In May, Al-Shabab pressured elders and other residents in villages in central Somalia’s Mudug and Galgadud regions – from which Ethiopian military forces had recently withdrawn – to hand over children ages 7 to 15. A boy who fled Middle Shabelle region without his parents said: “Our school wasn’t controlled by Al-Shabab. Six weeks ago [late June], they came to our school, took down our names, and took two boys. The teacher managed to escape. They threatened that next time they would come back for us.”

A woman in Burhakaba district said that her four children had witnessed 25 of their classmates being abducted from their school: “The four of them are now so worried about going to school. But if they don’t go to school, and get the fundamentals of the religion, they will go to waste.” Some local religious schools in Bay region are closing fearing further attacks, or because the teachers have fled or been abducted.

Some residents said that their only option to protect their children was to send them, often unaccompanied, to areas outside of Al-Shabab control – a difficult and dangerous journey given the threat of Al-Shabab abduction along the way. Community elders and local monitors said the recruitment campaign has forced approximately 500 people as of October, often unaccompanied children, to flee their homes to Baidoa.

“I heard that children were being captured in neighboring villages and so got very scared,” said a 15-year-old who fled by foot with his 9-year-old brother to the nearest town. “My parents gave me money to come to Baidoa. My brother and I were very scared of being captured along the way, since we went through the bush.”

In August, an official from Adale in Middle Shabelle told the media that his community was hosting approximately 500 children ages 10 to 15 who had fled forced recruitment in Galgudud, Hiran and Middle Shabelle districts. Some children have fled to towns where they have relatives, others end up in dire conditions in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Local groups estimate that over half of the children recently displaced to Baidoa now live in IDP settlements. But unaccompanied children, especially those in informal camps, are unlikely to find security or schooling and may be forced to work to survive.

“The government with UN agency assistance should ensure that displaced children, including those without adult guardians, receive protection and appropriate schooling,” Bader said. “Children should not flee one danger zone for a new one.”

The UN Security Council’s Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) reported that in June, Al-Shabab detained 45 elders in El Bur who refused to provide them with 150 children and only released them on the condition that the children would be handed over. The SEMG found that 300 children were abducted from the area during this period and taken to an Al-Shabab school.

In April Al-Shabab announced over its radio station that it was introducing a new curriculum for primary and secondary schools and warned teachers and schools against “foreign teachings.” A Bay region resident said that Al-Shabab took a dozen teachers for “retraining” around April, and they were only released after paying about US$300 per person. In certain areas, Al-Shabab ordered schools to shut down and communities to send their teachers to Al-Shabab curriculum training seminars, SEMG reported.

Human Rights Watch did not find clear evidence that children abducted in recent drives were taken directly for military training, but interviewees repeatedly raised the concern. The UN monitoring group reported that some of the schools set up by Al-Shabab were linked to military training facilities. Child abductions, notably from schools, and children’s use as fighters by Al-Shabab significantly increased in the second quarter of 2017, the UN monitoring group said. Boys who had been associated with Al-Shabab since late 2015 said that the religious schools and teachers were often used to recruit boys as fighters. These boys said their military training included a mixture of rudimentary weapons training and ideological indoctrination.

The Somali government has taken some steps to protect schools and students, Human Rights Watch said. In 2016 it endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment by countries to do more to ensure that schools are safe places for children, even during war. Somalia has signed but not yet ratified the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict, which states that armed groups “should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.”

The government, with the help of international donors, should wherever possible identify Al-Shabab recruitment drives, including their location, scale, and use of educational institutions, that could inform protective measures, Human Rights Watch said. Doing so would also help efforts to assist displaced children, such as addressing their health, shelter, and security needs and providing them free primary education and access to secondary education, as well as appropriate psychosocial support.

“Al-Shabab’s campaign only adds to the horrors of Somalia’s long conflict, both for the children and their families,” said Bader. “The group should immediately stop abducting children and release all children in their ranks. The Somali government should ensure these children are not sent into harm’s way.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Palestinian teen Ahed Tamimi enters a military courtroom escorted by Israeli Prison Service personnel at Ofer Prison, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 1, 2018. 

© 2018 Reuters

On Monday, an Israeli military court will decide whether to release 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi on bail or keep her in jail until the end of her trial. She has become a symbol of Palestinian resistance, and some Israeli politicians have called for her to be harshly punished. But the military court should base its decision on one criterion: whether the further detention of Ahed Tamimi, a child, is necessary as a measure of last resort, the standard international law requires.

It all began on December 15, 2017, at a protest in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh against US President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. During the protest, a soldier fired a rubber-coated bullet that severely injured Ahed’s 15-year-old cousin; when Ahed learned of the boy’s shooting she began to push and slap two soldiers who had entered her yard. A video showing the incident went viral. Border police arrested Ahed on December 19 – in the middle of the night, the usual means by which the military arrests Palestinian children.

The reasons to grant bail are straightforward. Ahed has never been indicted before, and hardly poses a serious security or flight risk. A military judge has already released from detention her 20-year-old cousin, Noor, who was also present during the altercation and is seen pushing the soldiers, and was also charged with aggravated assault. Displaying appropriate restraint, the two soldiers in the video did not arrest or even use much force to stop them. The civil courts deny bail to Israeli children in only 18 percent of cases.

But Israeli officials and politicians seem to want to make an example of Ahed, Nour, and Ahed’s mother, Nariman, who also faces charges. “They should finish their lives in prison,” said Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for “severe” punishment of Ahed and her family, “to serve as a deterrent,” and banned 20 members of her family from visiting her in detention in Israel, where she was unlawfully transferred from occupied territory.

Unlike the leniency often shown to settlers – even those who slap Israeli soldiers – the prosecution is throwing the book at the girl, whose indictment includes a dozen counts of assault, incitement, interference with soldiers, and stone-throwing in incidents since April 1, 2016.

And unlike Israeli civilian courts’ treatment of Israelis, military courts in the West Bank deny bail in 70 percent of cases involving Palestinian children. A 2013 UNICEF report found that almost all children plead guilty to reduce the length of pretrial detention, because doing so, “is the quickest way to be released,” from a system that typically denies children access to a lawyer or the presence of their parent during coercive interrogations and, “does not allow children to defend themselves.” Considering that the military prosecutor plans to summon 18 witnesses, mostly soldiers, Ahed’s trial could take months.

Issuing a well-reasoned decision on bail won’t fix the discrimination and ill-treatment of children in Israel’s military justice system. But it will at least demonstrate a willingness to abide by the law that should govern one part of that system.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People chant slogans and hold signs to condemn the rape and killing of 7-year-old girl Zainab Ansari in Kasur, during a protest in Peshawar, Pakistan January 11, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

Yesterday, Pakistani news anchor Kiran Naz went on the air with her young daughter to protest on camera the rape and killing of Zainab Ansari, a 7-year-old girl, whose body was dumped in a pile of garbage.

“It is true when they say that the smallest coffins are the heaviest,” Naz said, her daughter sitting on her lap. “And all of Pakistan is burdened by the weight of her coffin.”

Zainab went missing on January 4 and her brutalized corpse was discovered five days later, leading to widespread protests in Pakistan.

The cruel indifference of some crimes can shake a nation. But too often, incidents of child sex abuse remain hidden.

According to the Islamabad-based nongovernmental organization Sahil, an average of 11 cases of child sexual abuse are reported daily across Pakistan. Zainab was among the dozen children to be murdered in Kasur district in Punjab province in the past year. In 2015, police identified a gang of child sex abusers in the same district.

It’s not just Pakistan – sexual violence against girls and women is commonplace in South Asia. In India, the crime that awoke the nation to this cruel reality happened in 2012, when a 23-year-old student, Jyoti Singh Pandey, was gang-raped and left fatally injured on the road. Indians erupted in rage, demanding that the government take action to end sexual violence.

Although much remains to be done, the Indian parliament eventually did respond, unanimously adopting reforms to prosecute sexual violence and initiating new policies. Yet even before the Pandey attack, the Indian government had enacted a law to protect children from sexual abuse.

In 2013, Human Rights Watch published Breaking the Silence, which included detailed recommendations to the Indian authorities on protecting children from sexual abuse. Similar steps are needed in Pakistan. These include believing children who report abuse, ensuring victims receive respectful care from health providers, and making sure police respond in a way that protects victims instead of harming them further.

Child sex abuse is not inevitable. A strong public and government response can mean the difference between life and death for little ones who deserve our protection. The heavy burden of little coffins needs to end. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

© 2009 Romano

I thought I had grown accustomed to being blindsided by bad news – headlines detailing how the United States government is chipping away at human rights. But yesterday morning, I was newly shocked and outraged when I heard that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may roll back federal standards that ban children under 18 from working with toxic pesticides.

This move may just be another one of the Trump administration’s sweeping attempts to undo regulations enacted under former President Barack Obama. But undoing or weakening these safeguards could leave many children in the US vulnerable to pesticide exposure.

Children younger than 18, who are in a critical stage of growth and development, are especially susceptible to toxic pesticides. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has said there’s a clear link between childhood exposure to pesticides and “pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems.” Child health experts, including the AAP and the Children’s Environment Health Network, have supported a minimum age of 18 for children to handle pesticides. 

I’ve interviewed more than 100 child farmworkers in the US while researching child labor in agriculture. Far too many of them described being exposed to pesticides and getting sick while they worked. One 16-year-old boy said he used a backpack sprayer to apply an insecticide on a tobacco farm in Virginia, adding that, “I got home and felt dizzy and started puking.”

The EPA announced that it is considering changing the standards in two notices published in the federal register in late December. One of the safeguards on the chopping block, a revision to the Worker Protection Standard enacted in 2015, bans children under 18 from handling pesticides on farms, forests, nurseries, and greenhouses where they work and from re-entering fields where pesticides have recently been sprayed. The second rule bans kids under 18 from handling or applying high-risk pesticides – known as restricted use pesticides, or RUPs – in, on, or around schools, homes, farms, and other workplaces like golf courses.

These are common sense measures to protect children’s health, based on solid research. Yet even so, it took decades of fighting by advocates to get these protections passed, and they were only adopted after the EPA extensively reviewed the literature and analyzed public comments.

The EPA should advance its mission of protecting human health and the environment and drop this callous and harmful proposal.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Taguhi shows scars on her neck and shoulder. In 2016, her former husband attacked her and her mother with an axe, killing her mother. 

© 2016 Nazik Armenakyan (Daphne.am)
(Yerevan) – The lives and well-being of women and children in Armenia who have survived domestic violence are in jeopardy because of the Armenian government’s failure to ensure their protection, Human Rights Watch said today. In December 2017, Armenia’s parliament passed a law on violence in the family, but women and children remain at risk until the government comprehensively changes how police respond to complaints of violence and provides accessible, quality services for survivors.

Human Rights Watch spoke with 12 survivors of severe domestic abuse in Armenia. The women said their husbands or male partners punched and kicked them, raped them, struck them with furniture and other objects, confined them in their homes, stalked them, and threatened or attempted to kill them with knives or other sharp objects. Five women said the attacks against them continued during pregnancy; three said they had miscarriages after their husbands beat them.

“Armenian authorities have failed to protect women and others from domestic violence, putting women’s and children’s health and lives in jeopardy,” said Jane Buchanan, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The new law is one important step, but until authorities take reports of domestic violence seriously and ensure that women and children get the legal, medical, and social help they need, the danger remains.”

Those interviewed said that when they reported abuse to police or other authorities, the authorities did nothing to prevent further violence, investigate cases, or hold the attackers accountable. In some cases, the authorities encouraged women to drop complaints and reconcile with their abusers. The authorities did not refer the women for services or assistance.

Armenia’s Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, an alliance of nongovernmental women’s rights organizations, reported that at least four women were killed by their partners or other family members in the first half of 2017, and at least 50 were killed between 2010 and 2017. The Coalition received 5,299 calls about incidents of domestic violence from January through September 2017.

In one case Human Rights Watch documented, Gayane (not her real name), 45, said that her former husband had repeatedly beat her during their eight-year marriage, stalked her after she divorced him, and frequently broke into her house to rob and attack her, most recently in November. “He grabbed me by the hair and threw me on to the sofa,” Gayane said. “He jumped on top of me and put his elbows on my throat, trying to strangle me. I bit him in the arm and he let go, but he dragged me off the sofa, threw me down on the floor, and started to kick me all over, shouting, ‘Die!’”

When Gayane ran to the police in her nightclothes, they said, “Oh, so you came and want to do something about your husband? He beat you? And so? Why did you let him in?” After receiving treatment at the hospital for a sprained wrist and numerous bruises, Gayane returned home to find her former husband asleep in her house with her two sons. Police refused to intervene.

Children witnessed abuse against their mothers, often for many years, and several women said their husbands committed violence against their children. Human Rights Watch also documented other family members, such as in-laws, abused women.

The new law requires police to urgently intervene “when there is a reasonable assumption of an immediate threat of repetition or the continuation of violence” in the family. Urgent measures include police removing the alleged attacker from the home and prohibiting them from approaching or communicating with the victim. Courts can issue six-month protection orders, with two possible three-month extensions.

Many women said they lived with their abusers for years because they had no means of escape. The country has only two domestic violence shelters, both in the capital, Yerevan, run by nongovernmental organizations, each with a capacity for five women and their children. Council of Europe standards call for at least one specialized shelter in every region, and one shelter space per 10,000 people. With a population of approximately 2.9 million, Armenia should have approximately 290 shelter spaces. The new law mandates creating government-run shelters, but does not specify the number of shelters or their capacity. 

The law defines domestic violence as “a physical, sexual, psychological, or economic act of violence” between family members, including spouses in unregistered marriages. It is not clear if the law applies to couples who are not in registered or unregistered marriages.

Just before submitting the law to parliament in mid-November, the government revised the law to include “strengthening of traditional values in the family” as a key principle. Authorities also changed the title to add the concept of “restoring harmony in the family.”

The Coalition to Stop Violence against Women expressed concerns that the new law’s principle of “traditional values” could be used to reinforce obsolete and problematic gender roles and stereotypes. Activists also fear an emphasis on “restoring harmony” could be used to pressure women to remain in abusive relationships.

During a December 6 meeting, Armenia’s minister of justice, David Harutyunyan, told Human Rights Watch that the concept of “restoring harmony in the family” recognizes the government’s obligation to not only protect victims, but to provide services to the alleged abuser, such as alcohol or drug treatment. He said that these initiatives would not take priority over protection.

The new law requires authorities to investigate alleged crimes in the family even if the victim withdraws a complaint to the police. It also mandates training for police, prosecutors, judges and others in the criminal justice system on how to respond to complaints and investigate and prosecute cases.

The European Union insisted the government of Armenia pass a domestic violence law as a condition for certain budgetary support. The European Commission also called on Armenia to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, known as the Istanbul Convention. In late December, the government approved the possible signature of the convention, but has not yet done so.

“Women in Armenia need the government to provide meaningful protection from abusive husbands and partners, not to reinforce gender stereotypes about men’s dominance or family roles that can contribute to violence in the first place,” Buchanan said.

Accounts from Domestic Violence Survivors

Human Rights Watch conducted in-depth interviews with 12 survivors of domestic violence in Armenia: 11 in December 2017 and one in May 2016. Human Rights Watch also interviewed women’s rights activists and representatives of organizations providing services to survivors of domestic violence, who described similar accounts of abuse, authorities’ response to domestic violence, and obstacles to accessing services for survivors. Everyone interviewed was informed of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, and the ways the information would be used. All provided verbal informed consent. The interviews highlighted survivors’ experiences and the legal and other protection gaps that the government should address, including through the new law on family violence. Where necessary, pseudonyms have been used to protect interviewees’ identities.

“Armine”

From the first weeks of her marriage in 2004, at age 19, Armine’s husband abused her:

After we were married just one or two weeks, he hit me in the face. When he stayed out late, and I asked him where he was, this would set off beatings. When I was seven months pregnant with our first child he beat me, including in my belly. According to the doctor, this injured the baby and he was born with a problem in his spine.

Then my husband started to drink, and it was as if I just made mistake after mistake. He would humiliate me. He would take all the sheets and blankets off the bed and demand that I remake it. He would refuse to eat what I prepared and demand I go out and get something else. I can’t even pronounce the words he would say to me to insult me. They were all the worst words.

Later, he started to use sharp objects. Sometimes he would come home late at night and I would be asleep in my bed with my sons on either side of me. He would jump on top of me and put the knife to my neck and say, “I’ll kill you!”

Armine said her husband broke her rib during one beating, and broke her arm during another:

I was sitting at the table across from him with my youngest son in my arms. My husband got angry and picked up the table and turned it over. I tried to stop the table from crashing onto me, but it broke my right arm. I went to the hospital and got a cast. When they asked at the hospital what had happened, I lied and said I fell.

Armine also said that if she tried to protect herself, her husband would break furniture, throw household objects and smash windows. On one occasion, neighbors called an ambulance, hoping the medics could remove Armine’s husband. Medical workers refused to intervene saying, “He’s not a patient for us, take him to the psychiatric hospital.” They left without calling the police or telling Armine how she could get help.

One night in 2014 after her husband threatened to kill her with a knife and hit her younger son, Armine fled the house with her two children. Her former husband stalked her relentlessly for two years:

He would come to my aunt’s house. He would appear on the street as I took the kids to school. He would swear at me, demand that we get back together. Other times he would stand in front of me on the sidewalk and not let me pass. Or he would grab me by the arm or by my purse, trying to make me go with him.

In 2015, Armine lost her job in a medical center after her then-former husband twice came to her workplace:

I worked a 24-hour shift. He came one night and was drunk. He said ‘I came to see if you are actually working or if you are doing something with some lover. I won’t let you work anywhere. I will slit your throat!’ After that the director came and told me I shouldn’t come to work anymore. He said, ‘It’s not ok for your husband to come here and sort out your family problems.’

The medical center director did not offer Armine any assistance.

She said the police failed to protect her:

After we were divorced, I called the police four or five times when my [former]husband showed up at my aunt’s house. They would come, take him away, then let him go after five minutes. One time I wrote a complaint to the police. The officer said, ‘We can’t do anything. We can’t detain him. There is no law.’ The investigator who received a complaint said that the only possibility was a court process with the outcome being a monetary fine for him. I decided it wasn’t worth it. He didn’t have the money to pay for a fine.

Armine described her ongoing anxiety and fears after more than a decade of abuse. She said, “I haven’t heard from him, and I believe he is not living in Armenia anymore, but I am still scared. I go to work early in the morning, when it is still dark out. I am extremely anxious from the time I leave home until I get to work. If I hear footsteps behind me, I am afraid it’s him.”

Taguhi

Taguhi, 38, and her husband married in February 2014. She described frequent beatings for more than two years, including when she was pregnant in 2014. In another incident, her husband beat her and threatened her with a knife while she was holding their infant son. Taguhi frequently sought refuge at a friend’s home or with her parents, during which time her husband would threaten, stalk, and attack her. Taguhi’s husband also attacked her father and broke the window of her father’s car in 2015, she said. Although her father complained to police, they closed their investigation, saying there was a lack of evidence of a crime.

Taghuhi filed complaints with the police following many of the beatings, although several investigations were closed due to lack of evidence. In January 2016, however, a court convicted her husband of battery and torture based on a number of Taguhi’s complaints about beatings from February to April 2015. The court sentenced him to six months in prison but immediately released him on a conditional sentence. He served no prison time.

Despite his conviction, he continued to stalk her, especially at her parents’ apartment, forcing his way in, or attacking her near the building’s entrance. From February through July 2016, Taguhi filed at least eight complaints with the police. After an attack near her parents’ apartment in July 2016, Taguhi fled to the police with her mother. The police accepted her written complaint and then drove the women back to the apartment building, but refused to escort them to the door, although Taguhi told them she feared her former husband might be waiting for them.

As she and her mother approached the apartment door, Taguhi’s former husband, who had been hiding nearby, attacked the two women with an axe, killing Taguhi’s mother. Taguhi was hospitalized for six weeks, with numerous injuries, including a nearly severed shoulder, a partially severed ear, and axe wounds to her scalp, hand, arm, neck, chest, abdomen, and back. Her father, who came out of the apartment and tried to intervene, lost two fingers on his left hand. Her son, who was at home with the grandfather, watched the attack from the doorway. Taguhi’s former husband is in pretrial detention facing murder and attempted murder charges.

Taguhi herself, however, is also facing trial on battery charges for scratching her former husband’s arms and neck with her fingernails in June and early July 2016. She said that she was acting in self-defense and that her artificial fingernails could not have caused injury consistent with battery.

Zaruhi”

“As soon as I got married, when I was 18, the nightmares started,” said Zaruhi, now 30. “He drank heavily, and so did his parents. All of them would hit me sometimes.” Zaruhi’s husband controlled her, threatening to kill her. He refused to let me go out of the house or even have coffee and socialize with the neighbors, she said. “He threatened me that if I tell anyone about the beatings he would kill me, or if I tried to leave him, he would find me and kill me. I felt like I had no choice but to stay.”

Her husband also raped her and controlled her sexually. “One night he came home drunk and wanted to have sex. I said, ‘I don’t want to, don’t touch me.’ He got very angry and yelled, ‘When I want to, you will sleep with me. Even if you don’t want to, I don’t care! If I want to, you will give it to me.’” Zaruhi said he punched her in the head, knocked her down, and kicked her in the abdomen, and then raped her. “After that, even if I didn’t want to be with him, I agreed. I stayed calm, just so that he wouldn’t beat me,” she said.

Zaruhi said that one day in 2009, her husband beat her when she was about five months pregnant with her third child. She started having vaginal bleeding and went to the hospital, where doctors told her that the fetus had died in the womb.

Despite regular abuse, Zaruhi was afraid to go to the police because of her husband’s death threats and those of her mother-in-law, who said: “If you ever think of going to the police, know that we have friends in the police, and it won’t do you any good.”

After a severe beating in August 2017, Zaruhi divorced her husband and moved in with her parents. He repeatedly came to their house, beat her and threatened to take their four children. She eventually moved and went into hiding. “I just want him to leave me alone,” she said. With the support of a local women’s rights organization, Zaruhi went to the police. She has filed a complaint regarding the beating that caused the death of her baby and has sued for alimony and child support. The investigation is ongoing.

“Astghik”

Astghik, 38, has three children. Her husband has abused her since shortly after they married in 2010. She said:

He grabs me and shakes me. He spits on me. Every day he wounds my soul. He threatens me, often with a knife, and tells my children, ‘I will kill your mother and you will end up in the orphanage.’ He forces me to have sex with him. I don’t want to. I do it with loathing. I do it just so there wouldn’t be another fight.

One time, earlier this year, he shoved a kitchen knife at me, threatening to kill me. I called the police, but when they came, they said, ‘Unless he actually hurts you, we can’t do anything.’

With the help of a lawyer at a nongovernmental organization, she filed an official complaint regarding the death threats. The investigation is ongoing. Although the two are officially divorced and Astghik is entitled to court-ordered child support, she continues to live with her abusive former husband, because he does not, and is not forced to, pay support, without which she has no income and is not able to provide shelter for herself and the children.

Hasmik

Hasmik said that her husband beat her for the first time soon after they married in 2004, and continued to do so regularly throughout  their nine-year marriage, including during her pregnancies in 2006 and 2007. He punched her in the head when she was three months pregnant with their first child, who was born with a hearing disability. Hasmik believes her pregnancy was harmed by the abuse she suffered.

One day in 2013, Hasmik’s husband punched her in the face, broke a glass of water on her head, and beat her with a chair. “He had beaten me so badly that I lost consciousness,” she said. “I could not open my eyes, and when I did, I saw blood everywhere and on the wall.”

Her husband’s family refused to help her go to the hospital. Hasmik was bed-ridden for several weeks. Soon after she recovered, her husband resumed beating her.

After another beating later in 2013 that caused a severe injury to the side of her head, Hasmik ran away and spent the night outside in fear. She was two months pregnant. She went to her parents’ house and soon decided to have an abortion, not wanting to have another baby in her troubled family. While recovering at home, she fainted, and her family called an ambulance. When the medics saw her head injury, they insisted that she notify the police.

Police arrived from the town where Hasmik and her husband lived, but instead of assisting her, they urged her to go back to her husband. Hasmik refused, and with the support of a women’s rights group, moved to a shelter, filed a complaint against her husband for abuse, and petitioned for custody of her children. Hasmik’s former husband threatened her, saying he would never let her see their children again, unless she withdrew her police complaint.

Police failed to respond appropriately or prevent further threats and abuse during the investigation. During one witness confrontation, a procedural step in criminal investigations when the two parties must meet together with the investigator, Hasmik ’s husband shouted at her saying, “I will smash this table on your head!” When the investigator did not respond, Hasmik fled, and filed a complaint. At the next interrogation the investigator said to her, mockingly, “He didn’t actually hit you with the table. Why did you run out of here?”

Her former husband was later charged with torture, including causing physical and psychological suffering, of a person financially dependent on him (Criminal Code article 119). In December 2014, a court convicted him and sentenced him to 18 months in prison, but he was released from the courtroom under a national amnesty for certain crimes, and served no prison time. He did not further harm Hasmik, but in 2015 attacked his parents and police who responded. A trial on charges of using violence against police is ongoing.

Though a court awarded Hasmik custody of her then-6-year-old son in 2013, her husband’s family refused to give the child to her, and the regional division of the Justice Ministry’s enforcement service did not carry out the judgment. Her son finally moved in with her in November 2016 after national authorities intervened. Hasmik’s daughter had lived with her since late 2013 since her husband did not want the child because of her disability.

“Karine”

Karine. 44, filed a complaint against her husband in 2016, after he beat and raped her for many years, but the authorities’ response led her to abandon the process. She said:

I had to forgive my husband and go back to him. Police and municipality officials insisted that I do so, and also withdraw my complaint. They said that it’s a family matter, that my husband was [psychologically] sick, and that it was my duty to help him. Police told me that even if I pursued the complaint, it would not lead to anything, just some fine.

Recommendations

The Armenian government should:

  • Ensure the prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation of all domestic violence cases, using methods that mitigate risks for survivors, and prosecute and punish the attackers;
  • Systematically train police, judges, and other relevant authorities in domestic violence response, including filing and investigating complaints, in line with international standards;
  • Ensure immediate access to protection for survivors of domestic abuse through availability of shelter spaces, including in rural areas, and short- and long-term protection orders;
  • Ensure that survivors and their children have access to quality, comprehensive and inclusive medical, psychological, legal, and other services;
  • Conduct campaigns to educate the public about the new law, how to file complaints, and the availability of services;
  • Ensure that enforcement of the law includes victims in non-marital intimate relationships;
  • Swiftly adopt relevant changes to the criminal code to ensure appropriate punishments commensurate with the gravity of the abuse;
  • Revise the criminal code to include an aggravating circumstance covering crimes committed within the family or domestic unit or between former or current spouses or partners, whether or not the abuser shares or has shared the same residence with the victim, in line with the Istanbul Convention; this approach allows for the use of the generic provisions in the criminal law while imposing a higher sentence in cases of domestic violence;
  • Consider addressing domestic violence as a dedicated criminal offense. This can provide an optimal response particularly in cases of abusive patterns of behavior in which isolated acts of violence do not reach the criminal threshold; and
  • Ratify the Istanbul Convention without delay. 
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
It wasn’t until the 1980s, after a series of nervous breakdowns, that Bo Laurent—then in her 30s—set out to investigate the source of her deep distress.

The truth, when it finally came, was both liberating and traumatizing: Bo discovered she had been born with atypical genitalia, which surgeons had operated on to make her look—arbitrarily—more typically female, inflicting irreversible harm on her in the process, and telling her parents that they should never reveal to Bo the surgery she had undergone as an infant.

Doctors had told Bo’s parents, and Bo herself once she found out, that her condition was so rare there was no one else like her. But after learning the truth from her medical records, and as she traveled the country telling her story, she found this was untrue. Her California mailbox began to fill with letters from people describing similar experiences.

In 1993, Bo, using the name Cheryl Chase, founded the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) to meet and help people who, like her, were born with biological sex characteristics that fall outside typical definitions—that is, their chromosomes, gonads, or internal and external sex organs differ in some way from what science and society have long deemed to be “male” or “female.”

ISNA became an eddy of activists, a support group for traumatized people who had more questions than answers, and the birthplace of momentous historical agitations such as “Hermaphrodites with Attitude.” Their mission was to convince the medical establishment to respect intersex people’s rights to health and bodily autonomy by stopping “normalizing” surgeries on children before they were old enough to understand the procedures and consent to them.

Speaking Truth to Power

ISNA’s message was not anti-doctor, or even anti-surgery, but pro-informed consent. Operations to alter the size or appearance of children’s genitals risk incontinence, scarring, lack of sensation, and psychological trauma. Surgery to remove gonads can amount to sterilization without patients’ consent, and then require lifelong hormone replacement therapy. The procedures are irreversible, severed nerves cannot regrow, and scar tissue can limit options for future surgery.

Bo and the other early ISNA participants believed the truth would soon set them—and future generations of intersex people—free. Their thinking, as Bo told me when we first met in the fall of 2016 near her home in Sonoma county, California, was: “As soon as we get our stories out there, this will all stop. Once doctors realize the harm they’ve done, they’ll change their minds and methods.”

But it wasn’t that simple.

Convincing the medical establishment proved to be significantly more complicated than anyone expected.

A change in medical paradigms requires a shift in understanding what the medical evidence shows—in this case, an acknowledgment that, although empirical data remains incomplete, there is now substantial evidence that medically unnecessary surgery on infants and young children with intersex traits often causes significant harm. Conversely, there is little evidence of its putative benefits, and certainly no empirical basis on which to conclude that the supposed benefits are real, let alone that they outweigh its harms.

But it's not easy to suggest that doctors are engaging in practices that violate their patients’ basic rights—the white coat signals a lot. As an endocrinologist in Boston told me: “Aside from clergy, who else in our society but doctors do people listen to about the heaviest life and death, sickness and health questions?”

The Default-To-Surgery Paradigm

The medical paradigm that ISNA was up against had calcified in the US in the 1960s when John Money, a psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, theorized that gender in infants was malleable and surgical interventions could unproblematically determine lifelong gender identity. Operations on intersex bodies had been conducted sporadically around the world in prior decades, but it was Money’s infamous 1967 case of recommending female sex assignment surgery on a male baby following a botched circumcision that cemented the theory as the default medical practice.

There were no clinical trials, no consideration of the potential risks, just a hypothesis from an elite practitioner based on his marquis case—which became known as “John/Joan”—driving the theory’s momentum. The outcome was, in fact, disastrous. In 1997, the patient’s psychiatrist and a sexology professor in Hawaii exposed the trauma the boy had suffered, and how Money had knowingly distorted the truth in his publications. The child had, in fact, not grown up to identify as a woman, but a man—and transitioned in his 20s.

In 2004, the patient, David Reimer, committed suicide.

The default-to-surgery paradigm, however, had already become entrenched and, in fact, was already being exported around the world.

Despite the horrors of Reimer’s story, Bo and ISNA continued to believe there was no reason to demonize doctors. The goal was to tell the stories of people who had undergone medically unnecessary surgery at an early age, explain to the medical community the destruction these surgeries had done to intersex people, and detail how surgery had failed to deliver the supposed benefits of “normalcy” and happiness.

This was their tactic to move the needle and start advocating to help intersex adolescents and adults seek the care they actually wanted. And then, the thinking went, the non-consensual surgeries would stop, social awareness would garner acceptance, and the intersex community could flourish.

“We were naive,” Bo said 25 years later. 

Resistance and Inertia

ISNA only ever staged one public protest—in 1996 in Boston, at the annual conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). It was a small group, and many participants were allies, but it struck a chord. The anniversary of that protest, October 26, is today marked as Intersex Awareness Day worldwide.

Although Bo herself was invited as a keynote speaker at an AAP conference as early as 2000, even having a seat at the table did not have linear impact.

“Doctors [would tell] me that the parents of intersex kids they’d operated on were happier than the parents of kids whose lives they’d saved,” Bo said, adding that most doctors could not say how the patients themselves felt about it once they reached adulthood because the doctors simply didn’t know—they had lost touch with them.  

Bo and other advocates made compromises along the way, some of which led to rifts in the community. During my research on intersex issues around the US, I heard a range of opinions, for example, on what happened in 2006 when Bo agreed to work with a group of physicians on the “Disorders of Sex Development Consensus Statement”—a collaborative paper produced at a conference in Chicago.

An intersex activist in her 60s told me she left the movement when ISNA “allowed the high priests of medicine to call us, ‘disordered.’” Another said he understood the compromise to get a seat at the table, but was disappointed it never produced results: “We’re still seen as freaks that need to be fixed 20 years later.” 

In the past decade, activists have worked to claim the space that the “DSD” consensus statement staked out. They quickly replaced “disorders” with “differences”—and today human rights bodies and even a handful of clinics use that language as well. But the default-to-surgery paradigm persists.

A father of a two-year-old child with intersex traits who is a clinical psychologist told me: “If you want to fuck somebody up psychologically, start calling a part of their body deformed and then see how that works out. The whole idea of disease and even the message the surgery sent is that there was something wrong that we had to fix.”

New Words, Same Ways

Despite shifts in terminology, and despite increasing controversy even within the medical community, the cohort of doctors who specialize in intersex treatment has largely clung to the default-to-surgery paradigm. The tone has changed: at least in their writing, doctors now mostly avoid construing surgery as a “quick fix” but rather a “legitimate option.” Teams of specialists— “DSD teams”—that sometimes include mental health providers typically meet with parents as part of the decision-making process.

But despite these advances, the surgical status quo remains largely intact. And medical justifications for cosmetic surgeries ring increasingly hollow.

For example, a 2015 article co-authored by 30 DSD healthcare providers reflecting on genital surgeries stated: “There is general acknowledgement among experts that timing, the choice of the individual and irreversibility of surgical procedures are sources of concerns.” It continued: “There is, however, little evidence provided regarding the impact of non-treated DSD during childhood for the individual development, the parents, society….”

Too often, as in the article by the 30 DSD doctors, the absence of evidence becomes part of the justification for continuing early surgery. The social hypothetical—fears of stigma for the child and chaos for family and society if surgery is delayed—continues to trump the actual harm that people who have undergone surgery suffer.

The foundational medical principle—“do no harm”—seems to dictate exactly the opposite: a moratorium on medically unnecessary cosmetic surgery on intersex children too young to consent unless and until there is evidence that the benefits outweigh the harms.

Real Risks Versus Hypothetical Happiness

There is now a growing body of outcomes data showing that early surgery can lead to physical and psychological harm, if not catastrophe, for intersex people. One of the many risks of “normalizing” surgery is assigning the wrong sex. Add to that the risk of needing additional surgeries to repair mistakes (I interviewed one person who had undergone 39 surgeries to keep his body functioning after a cosmetic operation in adolescence damaged him).

Then there’s scarring, incontinence, loss of sexual sensation and function, psychological trauma including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, the risk of anesthetic neurotoxicity in young children, and the need for lifelong hormonal therapy.

In 2017, Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders, Dr. David Satcher, and Dr. Richard Carmona, all former US surgeons-general, wrote that they believed “there is insufficient evidence that growing up with atypical genitalia leads to psychosocial distress,” and “while there is little evidence that cosmetic infant genitoplasty is necessary to reduce psychological damage, evidence does show that the surgery itself can cause severe and irreversible physical harm and emotional distress.” They said: “These surgeries violate an individual’s right to personal autonomy over their own future.”

Despite the data, many physicians who perform the surgery continue to be unmoved. A New York urologist unabashedly published a paper in 2007 documenting how his clitoral surgeries were proven effective and “nerve sparing.” The evidence he offered was produced by inserting vibratory devices in post-operative patients—in some cases, seven-year-old girls—and asking them how strongly they felt it.

More recently, in July 2017 when a hospital in South Carolina settled a medical malpractice suit for its surgery on an intersex infant for nearly $500,000, a psychologist with more than 20 years of experience with intersex patients dug in his heels and defended the status quo. “I never question people's experiences,” he said. “What I do question is whether their experiences are generalizable to others.”

Bioethicists have documented physicians’ reluctance to change the status quo for decades. Katrina Karkazis, an ethicist at Stanford, wrote in her 2008 book on the topic a number of “folk myths” that doctors perpetuate: “[A]s increasing numbers of studies have begun to demonstrate poor surgical outcomes, some surgeons and other clinical specialists discount even these findings,” she wrote, explaining that doctors believed their surgical techniques were always improving so data from past patients was irrelevant.

Karkazis wrote: “By charging that adequate studies are impossible because they will always assess old techniques, surgeons and others deflect current as well as future scientific and anecdotal evidence of poor surgical outcomes.”

In 2015, when patient advocates and ethicists publicly resigned from the largest research initiative on intersex healthcare to date—a multi-site university hospital project funded by the National Institutes of Health—citing frustration with the continuation of medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex children, one bioethicist wrote in her resignation letter that she was finished with “being asked to be a sort of absolving priest of the medical establishment in intersex care.”

Ending Unnecessary Surgeries

The experience of those who have undergone early surgery and the principles of medical ethics suggest that doctors should weigh evident harm over hypothetical benefits. The real question doctors should be asking is how many more of their patients need to suffer before medically unnecessary surgeries end.

Medical and policy leaders have noted the need for a fundamental change in approach. United Nations human rights experts; the World Health Organization; Amnesty International; Physicians for Human Rights; every major lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender legal organization in the US; the American Medical Association Board of Trustees in 2016; three former US surgeons general in 2017, two US pediatrics associations later that year; and intersex-led organizations around the world have called for an end to medically unnecessary non-consensual surgeries on intersex kids.

Many providers who care for intersex children have become increasingly uncomfortable with the current paradigm, but there remains a lack of clear, centralized standards of care for intersex patients.

And so the inertia persists. ISNA has dissolved and Bo has retired from activism, but a new generation of intersex people, whose bodies were operated on decades after Bo’s, have taken up the fight. For Intersex Awareness Day 2017, activist Pidgeon Pagonis staged a protest outside the Chicago hospital where, as a child, Pidgeon’s clitoris, vagina, and gonads were all surgically altered without Pidgeon’s consent.

The hospital issued a public statement saying it was “committed to open communication with the Intersex community and fully respect the diversity of opinions that exist in affected individuals.” But a leaked internal communication struck a rather different tone, perhaps revealing why doctors continue to perform these surgeries decades after they became controversial even within the medical community. In it, the hospital called the protesters’ demands “extreme,” and said the group was targeting hospitals across the country.

Bo told me: “No one has proven that the interventions are necessary to do on an infant…. Even if you find some people who had early surgery who are happy, that doesn’t mean it’s safe or necessary…. There are probably happy people. But there are a lot of very unhappy people—ruined people.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Children walk through the rubble of the Tamayuz (“Excellence”) kindergarten in the town of Hamouriyeh after it was hit by a Syrian-Russian airstrike on November 8, 2017. 

© 2017 Private

(New York) – Attacks by Syrian-Russian forces in an area near the Damascus in late October and early November 2017 killed eight children and destroyed or damaged four schools, Human Rights Watch said today. The attacks on Eastern Ghouta, 15 kilometers from the Syrian capital, resulted in the closing of schools, depriving many children in the besieged area of access to education.

Impunity for unlawful attacks and a deadly siege of Eastern Ghouta by government forces mean that children in the enclave are at grave risk. The Syrian government and affiliated militia are on the United Nations’ “list of shame” of parties responsible for serious violations of the rights of children in armed conflict.

“Syrian and Russian forces appear to view the lives of children in Eastern Ghouta as utterly disposable,” said Bill Van Esveld, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council should demand an immediate end to all unlawful attacks, not least those killing children and destroying schools, under threat of targeted sanctions against those responsible.”

Human Rights Watch spoke to nine witnesses in November and reviewed photographs, videos, and reports by Syrian human rights and media organizations of the school attacks. The attacks were apparently indiscriminate, in violation of the laws of war.

The Syrian-Russian military alliance has attacked many of the towns in Eastern Ghouta repeatedly. Attacks on the enclave intensified after anti-government armed groups attacked Syrian forces at a frontline location in the area in mid-November, including the use of cluster munitions, and re-started after a brief lull in December. The Violations Documentation Center, a Syrian nongovernmental group, reported that Syrian and allied forces killed 45 boys and 30 girls in the Damascus suburbs from November 1 to January 3.

On the morning of October 31, a mortar round hit the entrance gate of a primary school in Jisreen, a town in the besieged enclave, killing six schoolboys and a man selling sweets from a cart. Half-an-hour later, two mortar rounds landed almost simultaneously, on either side of a school in the town of Mesraba, killing two adults and two children, including a father and his son. Attacks on November 8, including at least one airstrike, destroyed a kindergarten in the town of Hamouriyeh, and badly damaged two elementary schools in the towns of Saqba and Kafr Batna.

Residents and an education official from Eastern Ghouta told Human Rights Watch that in October schools in the area rescheduled and shortened class time from about 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. to keep children safe by reducing the time they were gathered together in classrooms. But attacks continued to kill and maim schoolchildren and forced emergency evacuations of schools and kindergartens. In November, local councils closed public schools in response to these dangers. In one community where a school was attacked, residents opened an “alternative” school in the basement of a residential building for greater safety, but an airstrike destroyed the building in December.

Anti-government armed groups, Faylaq al-Rahman and Jaysh al-Islam, control the towns where the schools were attacked. But residents said the armed groups did not have materiel or personnel in the towns, under agreements with local civilian councils. Witnesses and residents said that the mortar attacks originated from areas controlled by Syrian government forces that had been the source of previous and continuing attacks on the towns.

Syrian government forces have besieged Eastern Ghouta, which has a population of about 400,000, since 2013. In October 2017, the government restricted the only entry point for commercial merchandise, exacerbating a scarcity of food and medical supplies. The government has refused to allow in adequate humanitarian aid, which reached only about a quarter of the enclave’s residents in 2017, and unnecessarily hindered the evacuation of people with urgent medical needs.

At least three children died in November after Syrian authorities refused to permit their urgent evacuation for medical treatment unavailable in the enclave. UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, stated in December that 137 children needed immediate medical evacuation. But the government allowed the Syrian Red Crescent to evacuate only 17 children and 12 adults with life-threatening health conditions, and their family members, from December 27 to 29, reportedly as part of a deal in which Jaysh al-Islam released detainees. One of the children on the list of those due to be evacuated had already died, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, a nongovernmental group.

The laws of war that apply to all parties to the conflict in Syria prohibit attacks that target civilians or civilian infrastructure like schools, fail to distinguish between civilians and military objects, or disproportionately harm civilians. Parties are required to take all feasible measures in conducting operations to avoid, or in any event minimize, loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. The laws of war also prohibit siege warfare if it causes disproportionate harm to the civilian population, and require the parties to provide access for humanitarian aid for civilians in need. Anyone who commits, aids, or abets serious violations of the laws of war intentionally or recklessly may be prosecuted for war crimes.

Russia has repeatedly used its veto as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to block accountability for war crimes by all sides in the Syria conflict. Russia and Syria should end their unlawful attacks on schools and civilians. The Security Council, which on December 19 renewed its mandate for cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to millions of desperate Syrian civilians, should demand that the Syrian government immediately end unlawful restrictions on aid to Eastern Ghouta or face targeted sanctions against those responsible.

“In 2017 a mortar blew off a boy’s legs at his school gate, a warplane flattened a kindergarten, and children died from illnesses that could have been treated just a few kilometers away,” Van Esveld said. “The suffering of children in Eastern Ghouta should shock the conscience, but it continues unabated in 2018 as Russia and Syria persist in their unlawful attacks.”

A boy packs his backpack at the Tamayuz (“Excellence”) kindergarten after the November 8 airstrike. 

© 2017 Private

October 31, 10:30 a.m.
Town of Jisreen, mortar attack, boys’ elementary school
Seven fatalities, including six children

Shortly after 10:30 a.m. on October 31, 2017, a single mortar round exploded immediately outside the entrance of an elementary school in the town of Jisreen, 10 kilometers east of central Damascus, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. Class had just ended, and children were leaving the school. According to the witnesses and family members, the attack killed six children, all under 12, and a man who sold sweets from a cart near the school gate, and wounded 15 to 20 other children, including a boy who lost both legs.

At that time, the nine schools in Jisreen were open only from 7 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., to reduce the risks to children if schools were attacked, a math teacher and an education official told Human Rights Watch. Mohamad Nasser Ash’oush elementary school had 520 students, all boys, in grades 1 through 6.

Bashar al-Bashash, the math teacher, who worked at the secondary school adjacent to the elementary school, was in the administration office when he “heard the sound of a [round] falling and the sound of children as they left at 10:30,” he told Human Rights Watch via WhatsApp messages. “We went out and saw them injured and on the ground. Everyone was crying and the whole place was filled with blood and torn remains.” 

Bahjat Abou Ali, the director of a local center of the Syria Civil Defense, a search and rescue organization, said he “heard the sound of the [round] falling” and arrived at the school two minutes after the attack:

 

It was while students were on their way out of the school. It’s like they were waiting for the school bell to ring [to launch the attack]. They were at the entrance of the school buying sweets from one of the merchants, who also died. ...  It was terrifying. Children were on the ground, remains, all on the ground. We grabbed whoever was alive and took them to the hospitals. There were 20 injuries among students. Jisreen hospital couldn’t take them all.

Witnesses and relatives identified the six children killed and provided photographs to Human Rights Watch: Yassin Ghaleb Hashem, Abdel Karim Mohamed Kheir Darwish, Yusuf al-Diyabi, Anas Mara’i, Mohamad Ma’moon Darwish, and Taher Jamil Darwish. The man killed while selling sweets near the school gate was Ghassan Abd el-Wahid Kateb, from Jobar. 

Mohamad Darwish’s 17-year-old sister, Fatimah, said in text messages that he was 10 years old and in fourth grade. She said his family frantically searched for him after the attack:

People in the town started looking for their children in the emergency [rooms] and in front of the school, because there were many children who were injured or who died. We couldn’t find my brother at first because he was transported to a medical point outside of Jisreen, in Saqba, due to his serious injuries. Mohamad was the only boy in our family. In my family we’ve so far lost my brother, my uncle, my cousin, and five other cousins. In every home, there is sadness and fear. In every home, there is someone injured.

Photographs and videos posted online by local and regional news media groups show a small, shallow crater in the street a few meters outside the school gate, and severe fragmentation wounds to the lower legs of the wounded and dead, consistent with witnesses’ descriptions of a mortar projectile exploding on impact at street level.

The witnesses and residents said that the school was located between residential buildings in a civilian area with no fighters, visible materiel, or offices of armed opposition groups. The school had not been attacked previously, but mortar attacks have hit civilian objects in Jisreen regularly and apparently randomly, residents said. Jisreen is under the control of Faylaq al-Rahman, an anti-government armed group, according to the Syrian Organization for Human Rights, a nongovernmental group.

It was not possible to verify the site where the mortar was fired, but all witnesses affirmed they believed government forces had fired it. Al-Bashash, Abou Ali, and the others interviewed believed Syrian government forces in al-Mleiha, a frontline location two kilometers east, were responsible for the mortar attack, on the basis of earlier mortar attacks from the area. Al-Bashash said that the government Air Force Defense Directorate is in that area, and suspected that it was the source of the attack based on previous attacks from that location and its proximity to the town. The Education Office of the Jisreen Local Council also attributed responsibility to Syrian government forces, and posted photos it said were of the burial of victims.

Bassam al-Tunisi, head of press and public relations at the education office for 11 towns in Eastern Ghouta, told Human Rights Watch by phone that the academic year in the area began on September 19, but that most classes were suspended after the October 31 attacks on schools in Jisreen and Mesraba. “We took three days to mourn the dead but also we were afraid they’ll hit schools again.”

October 31, 11 a.m.
Town of Mesraba, mortar attack, girls’ elementary school
Four fatalities, including two children
Within an hour of the attack in Jisreen, between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., two mortar rounds fell close to an elementary school in the nearby town of Mesraba, one on each side of the school. One projectile landed “right behind a wall of the school” and did not cause injuries, but the other landed almost simultaneously near another of the school compound’s exterior walls, killing four civilians including two children, a reporter with the Syrian Civil Defense center in Mesraba told Human Rights Watch in a phone call. Syrians for Truth and Justice, a nongovernmental group that interviewed a different Civil Defense worker and a resident of Mesraba, identified the school as the Shahid Soheil al-Tekhla school.

The mortar round killed Ghassan al-Kholi and his son, Mohamad; a young girl, Bara’a Talas; and another man, Adnan Ibrahim Anees, the reporter, the Civil Defense, and the Syria Violations Documentation Center said. Another child and two adults were wounded, the reporter said. All of those killed or wounded were civilians.

The reporter, who sent Human Rights Watch a graphic video he took at the scene, said the two mortar rounds “exploded at the very same moment.” When he and his colleagues rushed to the site of one explosion, they found no dead or wounded, but “the people there told us another [projectile] hit behind the back of the school.” At the site of the second impact:

We saw people and injuries on the ground, panic and fear. We started to rescue people, based on priority. We requested backup, another ambulance, and took all injuries to nearby hospitals. It’s a residential area and the school is between residential buildings, filled with people. There is no armed presence, nothing at all.

Mesraba is under the control of Jaysh al-Islam, an armed opposition group.

The civil defense reporter said that classes had ended and “children were just about to leave” when the attack occurred.A girl apparently wearing a backpack running away from the site is seen in the video. The reporter could not confirm the precise source of the attack, but believed the mortars were launched by government forces stationed at the Vehicles Administration Center (ادارة المركبات) near the town of Harasta, 1.5 kilometers away, because government forces there had previously launched indirect fire at Mesraba. Armed opposition groups in eastern Ghouta attacked the Vehicles Administration center two weeks later, on November 14.

November 8, 2:30 p.m.
Town of Hamouriyeh, airstrike, kindergarten
Three residents of Hamouriyeh told Human Rights Watch in separate telephone interviews that at about 2:30 p.m. on November 8, an airstrike with a single munition hit the Tamayuz (“Excellence”) kindergarten, destroying it. They said the building had not been used for military purposes and there were no military objects nearby.

No one was at the kindergarten because all schools in Hamouriyeh were closed from October 15 onward, said Ahmed Hamdan, a media activist who lives in the town. “There were no fatalities […] but it totally destroyed the school,” he said. “No one wants to go and die to study.”

Abdel Mun’em Issa, a local photographer, said: “It was total destruction. The [munition] hit in the middle of the school, and it went out of commission. It was just one [munition], but had a huge impact.”

Abdel Moyeen Homs, another resident, said he was “close to the kindergarten when it was struck” and heard a “very loud explosion. The bomb must have been highly explosive. When we went to the site, we realized it had destroyed the entire kindergarten and some of the houses next to it were heavily damaged.” Most people run for cover in basements whenever they hear a plane, Homs said, but the attack on the kindergarten wounded one man and one woman who were still in the street.

The kindergarten was for children aged 5 and 6, and had 250 students who attended in two shifts, Homs said, from 8 a.m. to noon, and from noon to 3:30 p.m. “If the school had been open, there would have been a massacre.”

The three men affirmed that the front lines were almost 3 kilometers from Hamouriyeh and that there was no military presence in the town.

The Hamouriyeh Media Office and Ghouta Media Center published multiple photographs and videos showing the damage to the kindergarten and nearby residential buildings. A nonprofit group, Al-Wafa’ for Relief and Development, published videos of a “festival” it held for orphaned children in the kindergarten two days before it was bombed.

While Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine whether the attacks were conducted by the Russian or Syrian air force, only Russian and Syrian forces are conducting airstrikes in the area.

Human Rights Watch documented that several airstrikes hit Hamouriyeh at about noon on December 3, one of which destroyed a building where residents had established an informal school – called an “alternative school” – in the basement, after public schools were out of service due to attacks.

November 8
Towns of Kafr Batna and Saqba
Two elementary schools badly damaged

Abou Ali, the director of a Syrian Civil Defense center in the area, said that an airstrike also hit a school in Saqba on November 8, “but thankfully no one was there at the time.” The local council of Saqba posted photographs on social media showing what it said was damage caused by the attack to the primary school; an Agence France-Presse photographer documented some of the destroyed classrooms.

Human Rights Watch has not been able to determine whether the attacks were conducted by the Russian or Syrian air force.

The Manarat al-Ola primary school in Kafr Batna, run by the Basmet Amal Foundation, was also badly damaged on November 8, by an unidentified munition. The school posted photographs showing the damage the following day; it had posted photographs of girls studying in un-damaged classrooms on November 5. 

Previous attacks on Kafr Batna had forced the emergency evacuation of schools. On November 29, at about 11 a.m., an unidentified munition that local actors attributed to Syrian government forces exploded near a kindergarten in Kafr Batna. Abou Ali said he and his team responded at the scene: “It was terror and fear all over, we evacuated most children to shelters because the strikes never stopped. They were hitting while children were starting to leave [school]. Thankfully, no one died. One child had light injuries.” The Syrian Civil Defense and other local groups posted videos of children fleeing from the school.

Syrian human rights groups and local social media reported that an artillery attack by Syrian government forces on October 16 killed a girl, Basma Muhsen, and her mother Ibtisam, in Kafr Batna. Abou Ali said the attack was “near the school.”

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Maria Carolina Silva Flor and Joselito Alves dos Santos with their 18-month-old daughter, Maria Gabriela Silva Alves, pictured after the launch of the Human Rights Watch report Neglected and Unprotected, July 2017.

© 2017 Amanda Klasing/Human Rights Watch

Maria Gabriela Silva Alves will have no party for her second birthday today. No cake. No gifts. No celebration. Gabi, as her parents call her, has congenital Zika syndrome, and her parents simply cannot afford it.

Gabi is one of thousands of children born with congenital Zika syndrome in Brazil over the last two and a half years. I met Gabi and her family while researching the human rights impacts of the Zika epidemic in northeastern Brazil. At 8-months-old, I was struck by how tiny she was, how lovingly her mother held her. Last July, I saw Gabi again when she was a year and a half. I had the joy of holding her several times, and having her nestle into my arms under the loving gaze of her parents, Carol and Joselito.

Brazil has not addressed longstanding human rights problems that allowed the Zika outbreak to escalate, leaving the population vulnerable to future outbreaks and other serious public health risks. 

Her parents were thrust under an intense media spotlight with little government support following her birth. Doctors weren’t sure – still aren’t sure – what Gabi’s life will be like. But her parents have been doggedly seeking services and support. She has a new automated chair that allows her to move around more easily. And, after spending nearly half of Gabi’s life commuting long distances for health care, they now have appointments in their own municipality with transportation provided.

This is not without costs. The family has racked up insurmountable debt caring for Gabi and her older brother, keeping food on the table and a roof over their heads. Though they receive a small financial contribution from the government, there is not enough money to keep their family healthy, much less to celebrate Gabi’s birthday.

Gabi and her family are not alone. Even as the headlines on Zika have faded, children throughout Brazil, and around the world, are growing up with congenital Zika syndrome. No longer babies, they and their caregivers need evolving support. They face difficulties buying expensive medicine, traveling to urban centers for appointments, and keeping paid work because of heavy family responsibilities. Federal and local authorities, and the broader international community, will need to address the special evolving needs of Gabi and children like her concerning their health, but also their education and other still unknown issues.

As Gabi embarks on her third year of life, I wish her and her family good health. And I hope they get the support they need.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Girls sit for lessons on a stairwell inside a school building.  Overcrowding—compounded by the demand for gender segregation—means that schools typically divide their days into two or three shifts, resulting in a school day too short to cover the full curriculum.

© 2017 Paula Bronstein for Human Rights Watch

This year was a remarkable one in terms of women’s rights. From the euphoria of the Women’s March to the pent-up trauma released by the #MeToo disclosures, 2017 has been a rollercoaster for activists – and for most women.

On Donald Trump’s first full day as US president on 20 January, women’s rights activists marched in unprecedented numbers in more than 70 countries. In October, allegations of a long record of sexual harassment and violence on the part of the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein set off a flood of similar allegations against other prominent men across the globe, toppling dozens by the end of the year. Women worldwide are fed up and that frustration was on display in ways that felt unusually visible and global.

But if the legacy of 2017 is to be more than a warm glow and a pussy hat, 2018 needs to deliver concrete, sustained change. Activists must harness the energy of the marches and #MeToo, connecting the struggles of women and girls internationally and creating change despite women’s rights often feeling increasingly under siege.

This year also brought plenty of bad news for women. The World Economic Forum declared that the “global gender gap”– the gap between the status of women and men on four key indicators: health, education, politics and the workplace – worsened, with growing inequality in economic participation a particular problem. This is the first time the gap has widened since tracking began in 2006. In 2016, the forum predicted that it would take 83 years to close the gender gap; now it estimates 100 years. It said: “Even though qualified women are coming out of the education system, many industries are failing to hire, retain and promote them.”

In education, new data from Unicef showed that in countries affected by conflict, girls are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school as boys. In South Sudan, 76% of girls are not studying; in Afghanistan and Chad, the rates are 55% and 53%.

Writing this in Yangon, Myanmar, where I’m investigating trafficking of women, I’m painfully aware of how conflict targets women and girls. Human Rights Watch has documented in excruciating detail how the Burmese military has been using rape as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, attacks that were widespread and aimed at terrorising people so severely that they would never return home. Sexual violence against women and girls featured in numerous other conflicts, including in the Central African Republic and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In health, reproductive choice is under attack. Access to family planning services is also directly linked to education, politics and the workplace, since women with control over their fertility are more likely to attend school, to work and to participate in public life. Particularly harmful was the US government’s renewed and expanded imposition of the “global gag rule”, which bans recipients of billions of US aid dollars from even discussing abortion with patients or legislators. This rule is already having devastating consequences as service providers who choose not to comply are forced to shut services as they lose funding. This policy will affect virtually every country that receives US development assistance. A number of other Some donor countries have worked to mitigate the harm of this policy, but the large scale of US aid funding means a huge hole remains.

To nurture the seeds of change sown in 2017, the women’s movement will need to find effective ways to embrace the problems of all women. Many have made the point that most of the attention generated by #MeToo has focused on elite workplaces and elite victims – the sense that many women who have come forward may risk losing a film role but won’t be left unable to feed their children. This response needs to be global, addressing the racial and economic divides that can deprive the movement of unity. Drawing connections and mutual support between a Rohingya rape survivor in Bangladesh and a groped intern in the UK parliament, an out-of-school girl in Tanzania and a woman denied access to abortion in Nicaragua will never be easy. Nevertheless, so many of our problems are faced in common.

Child marriage is a glaring example of an abuse that harms girls around the globe. About 15 million girls married as children this year – one every two seconds – in many countries, including Britain and the US as well as Bangladesh, Zimbabwe and Brazil. Married girls often leave school early, are more likely to live in poverty, are at greater risk of domestic violence and face more serious reproductive health risks, including death in childbirth, than women who marry as adults. Bangladesh, which has one of the highest rates of child marriage, regressed this year and made it again legal for children to marry. The UK government opposed legislation that would have ended child marriage. In the US this year, Texas and New York narrowed the circumstances under which children can marry, but child marriage is legal in all 50 US states; in 25 states, children of any age can marry under some circumstances.

In 2018, our movement will have to widen its scope. Sexual harassment, abuse and assault of women is commonplace in many industries and workplaces. #MeToo has triggered discussion about gender-based employment discrimination, both overt discrimination and the more insidious ways inequality excludes, marginalises and exploits women workers. Women know that sexual harassment, job discrimination, reproductive rights and violence against women are all connected – they see those connections all around them. We need reform in all those areas, in virtually every country.

The growing number of women running for office, including many in the US prompted to seek election by Trump’s victory, is a good sign. And female voters in every country can demand more gender-balanced cabinets, such as those appointed by Canada’s Justin Trudeau, South Korea’s Moon Jae-in and France’s Emmanuel Macron. Sweden has a “feminist foreign policy” and this year Canada pledged a feminist policy on overseas aid. They can be held to these policies, which could be models for all democracies. National action plans on women, peace and security offer a chance to focus global attention on the rights of women and girls affected by conflict.

Power concedes nothing without a demand, as the African American abolitionist and statesman Frederick Douglass said. Women communicated loud and clear in 2017 that they are fed up. Now they need to say exactly what they want and keep pressing those demands every day, in every country. The year 2017 was ferocious in terms of women’s rights; 2018 will be an even tougher fight.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am